Department of Physics

Physics alumna lives high-tech dream

In a New York nano, Alumna finds success on the cutting edge of semiconductor research in New York’s Tech Valley (feature article in UNItoday, Summer 2012).

It’s that magical moment. The moment a student opens the door, walks into a new class and sits down – completely unaware they are about to be blown away by how intriguing they find the subject matter; completely unaware this professor is about to change their world.

For Jenah Harris-Jones, B.S. ’07, that life-changing moment was the first Introduction to Nanoscience & Nanotechnology class in 2005, taught by Professor Cliff Chancey, now head of UNI’s Department of Physics.

“Nanoscience is the future of many industries, including medical sciences, alternative energy, defense and semiconductor manufacturing,” said Jones. “One of the most alluring prospects of the course was learning and receiving hands-on experience with instrumentation for materials characterization.”

Jones knew from the beginning that she was interested in graduate school. As a member of the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program (a program designed to help students from underrepresented segments of society pursue a Ph.D.), she visited graduate colleges across the nation and had the chance to present an original research project at the national level.

“The visits helped me choose the graduate program that suited my needs and the other program participants, faculty and staff were excellent company,” said Jones. “I have family picturegreat memories of studying for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) with my cohorts.”

For her graduate work, Jones selected the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany, State University of New York, featuring the most advanced research complex of its kind at any university in the world. 

“I would have to say that my biggest personal challenge was to uproot my husband, daughter and myself and move to New York state, leaving behind our entire support network,” said Jones. “The move was high-risk but has proved to yield high rewards.”

Now an Advanced Metrology and Failure Analysis Engineer with SEMATECH, a non-profit organization devoted to the global advancement of semiconductor manufacturing, Jones is part of one of America’s leading-edge industries.

According to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), semiconductor innovations form the foundation for America’s $1.1 trillion technology industry, affecting a U.S. workforce of nearly six million people and making semiconductors one of America’s top export industries.

“I’m a part of the Mask Blank Defect Reduction for Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) Lithography Program,” shared Jones. “EUV is slated to be the next-generation lithography technique for manufacturing computer microprocessors; however, there are many challenges involved with the implementation of this method, including the production of a defect-free mask blank. My specific responsibilities include locating these defects; determining their shape, size and composition; and tracking trends so that we can determine defect sources and develop mitigation strategies.”

Outside of her high-tech job, Jones keeps busy with family duties, running daughter Brianna to gymnastics and activities. Her husband, Ryan, B.A. ’06, P.S.M. ’08, is a research scientist in analytical development at AMRI Global, a contract research organization in the pharmaceutical industry. “I consider myself very lucky to have such a supportive husband who enjoys cooking and shares the household responsibilities,” she said.

Balancing family, academics and career has always been second nature for Jones. She and Ryan met at Hawkeye Community College, while she was a part-time student working on her associate’s degree. “He was an ideal study partner,” she said. “Which was a convenient excuse to get to know him better!”

They both then transferred to UNI, where Jones began her physics studies with Brianna as a baby. “Studying primarily occurred between classes and at naptime or after bedtime,” Jones said. “I could not have achieved success without the support of Ryan and my mentors.

“I enjoy being challenged on a regular basis and research does just that,” said Jones. “Each day, I get to come into work and face significant industry issues and use my expertise to help reach a solution, which is extremely gratifying.”